Announcing our 2021 Award Winners and Top 20 Books of the Year

Excerpt from Brass by Xhenet Aliu, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Brass

by Xhenet Aliu

Brass by Xhenet Aliu X
Brass by Xhenet Aliu
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2019, 304 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

When the last of the brass mills locked up their doors and hauled ass out of town once and for all, it seemed all they left behind were blocks of abandoned factories that poked out from behind high stone gates like caskets floated to the surface after the Great Flood of? '55.

But that wasn't true. They also left my father's hands with nothing to callus them, those poor idle bastards that once upon a time abandoned a Korean Stratocaster knockoff in favor of a Bridgeport milling machine, and just like most love triangles, it turned out he chose wrong. It left my mother slumping over the assembly line at the Peter Paul Mounds and Almond Joy factory down the street in Naugatuck, where she sometimes felt like a nut but more often she felt like a highball. It left my sister, Greta, younger than me by two years but with test scores that painted me a remedial toddler by comparison, with a tic that made her pull out her hair until the white bald patches of her scalp shone through like flags of surrender.

And when the last of the brass mills locked up their doors and hauled ass out of town once and for all, they left me with a change jar that hadn't even gotten me close to the wicked coupe that was going to drive me out of Waterbury so fast I wouldn't even bother to burn the skid marks that would mark my goodbye.

What I got instead was a job at the Betsy Ross Diner, slinging poutine fries and spanakopita to third-shifters headed to or coming back from their jobs as hospital guards, machinists, small-time drug dealers. And I got Bashkim, an Albanian line cook at a Greek diner named after an American patriot.

I swear to Allah, you are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. That's what Bashkim said to me after three weeks, when he finally looked up at me in the kitchen window for the first time. It was 1996, the middle of March, a brutal part of the year when spring was supposed to hit but didn't, when I'd given up on ever being warm again.

My being beautiful was about as likely as me ever wrapping my fingers around the leather steering wheel of a souped-up six, but for the first time since I'd started working there, clocking in seemed worth the sweatbox polyester uniform and jingle-change tips. My mother had warned me when I took the job to watch out for the Albanians who worked at the Ross, because she heard they treated their women like sacks and that their tempers ran hotter than the deep fryers in the kitchen, while the nice Lithuanian boys I should've been dating had the decency to ignore their women altogether and drink themselves silently to death in their garages. These Albanians, she'd say, shaking her head, they just speak Albanian to each other all the time. Her own parents barely spoke English but also didn't want their kids to learn Lithuanian, lest they be accused by their neighbors of being pinko bastards, so to her, open communication in any language was offensive and weird. But I was never one to take advice, and anyway, I figured she was talking about the teenage Albanians who jumped kids in the movie theater parking lot, or the middle-aged ones who choked me out of the dining room with the Marlboro Red smoke that leaked out of their mouths like cartoon thought bubbles. My mother wasn't talking about Bashkim. He was way worse than she could ever have known about, or she never would've lent me the money to buy the uniform.

I swear to Allah, you are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.

Well hallelujah! or whatever the hell Muslims had to say about that. I might've had an Our Lady of Sorrows prayer card tucked into my wallet where the dollar bills were supposed to go, but I believed in Allah right then, because Allah believed in me. I'd been holding out hope that I wasn't really ugly, just a type of pretty that common people didn't get, and what was I surrounded by if not the common? But Bashkim, no way, he wasn't common. He'd lived halfway across the world, as far away from Waterbury as my grandparents once had. Albania. Europe. So it was Eastern Europe, with its dictators and Communism and plastic sandals worn with mismatched tube socks. No geography teacher ever taught us that Eastern Europe and Europe are not one place, not one people, not one neighbor lending sugar to the other. Anyway, the way my mother told it, Albanians were basically Arabs with a European mailing address, while we Lithuanians had had the good sense to be conquered by nice righteous Christian crusaders. Still, I was thinking that maybe Bashkim saw something familiar in me, something Old World and refined, despite the thousands of years of peasant stock that had culminated in the second-generation American plainness that was Elsie Kuzavinas. I thought maybe some of my grandparents' European blood still somehow coursed through my veins, despite forty-something years in Waterbury, Connecticut: Brass Manufacturing Capital of the World.

Excerpted from Brass by Xhenet Aliu. Copyright © 2018 by Xhenet Aliu. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Albanian Communism

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: The Lincoln Highway
    The Lincoln Highway
    by Amor Towles
    Voted 2021 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Things look bleak for Emmett ...
  • Book Jacket: The Code Breaker
    The Code Breaker
    by Walter Isaacson
    Voted 2021 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    What makes humans human? It's ...
  • Book Jacket: Firekeeper's Daughter
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...
  • Book Jacket
    A Million Things
    by Emily Spurr
    Voted 2021 Best Debut Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Our First Impressions reviewers were...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    True Crime Story
    by Joseph Knox

    The #1 international bestselling novel. What happens to all the girls who go missing?

Win This Book!
Win Taste Makers

Taste Makers
by Mayukh Sen

America's modern culinary history told through the lives of seven pathbreaking chefs and food writers.

Enter

Wordplay

The Big Holiday Wordplay

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.